Sermon for Easter April 4, 2021

Happy Easter!  This is the day that the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it.  I hope that you feel the joy of Easter today at Transfiguration.  I hope that you find joy in the rest of your life today.  I hope that you will be able despite Covid-19 to spend time with family and friends. Jan and I are excited to drive to Flagstaff and join our family there, to be with our granddaughters and to share a lovely Easter meal.

It seems especially important to celebrate Easter this year.  We have gone through so much.  Last year at this time, the church was not open and we shared a service on Youtube and Facebook.  Many have been impacted financially by the pandemic.  Others have been tested by the requirement that we stay at home.  It has been difficult to be away from other people.  But the worst of it for me has been the loss of life.  I read the other day that nearly 3.4 million people died in the United States in 2020.  That was an increase of 15%. According to the report, Covid -19 was the third leading cause of death in 2020.  But the numbers don’t tell the whole story.  The impact of 2020 on us can be found in the names of those we lost, our family members and friends.  This past year, my brother-in-law died.  Several parishioners died.  Two of my cousins died.  The husband of another cousin died.  And my aunt, the last of my parent’s generation, died.  It has been a dark time. 

There is so much for which to be joyful on this Easter.   We are finally back in church and together again.  We have a chance to wave at our fellow parishioners even if it is at a bit of a distance.  We even can talk to people again in person.  It seems that things will continue to be better in the future.   Maybe this Easter you will remember back to wonderful experiences you have had in the past.  Perhaps it was a lovely dinner at your grandmother’s house. Maybe it was an Easter egg hunt when you were a child.  Maybe it was dressing up in a special way.  Perhaps you received a chocolate Easter bunny and ate all of it in one day.

Yes, Easter is a time of great joy. While we may appreciate all of the wonderful and joyous things that happen on Easter, our real joy comes from Jesus.  It is the day that Jesus, our Savior, created for us.  It is a day to celebrate Christ’s victory over sin and death.  In the early church, this was the most important day of the year.  It was the day when those who were learning about Christianity joined the faithful as full members of the church.  Through his death and resurrection, Jesus changed everything for us.  As we say in the collect, “Jesus Christ overcame death and opened to us the gate of everlasting life”.  We should lift up our heads a little taller today for Jesus has opened wide the gates of heaven and he did it for each of us.

I hope that you find a personal message in Scripture for today.  Consider how Paul is speaking to you in his letter to the Corinthians.  Paul worried that people would not believe it was possible for Jesus to be raised from the dead.  He offered the eyewitness accounts of so many of Jesus’ followers as a reason why we should believe.   The list continues but ends with his own witness. “Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. For I am the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.”  Paul was blessed to encounter the risen Jesus.  I wonder if you may have experienced the risen Jesus at some time in your life.  What touches me the most is Paul’s statement that he was unworthy, that he was unfit to be an apostle.  So many of us think we are unfit.  We know that we are sinners.  Yet, Paul’s words are meant for each of us.  Jesus rose from the dead for each one of us even if we think we are unfit. Paul said it so well, “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me has not been in vain.”  We have all been given God’s grace and it has made a difference in our lives.  God’s grace has not been in vain for any of us.  I hope the words of Paul and the love of God and the resurrection of Jesus give you great joy today.

Peter’s testimony in the Book of Acts is similar.  Peter encountered the risen Lord.   He is asking us to believe because of his own experience.  Once again, I hope that you hear his message as given directly to you.  “God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.”  Every one of us is acceptable to God.  And Peter reminds us that when we believe in Jesus we receive forgiveness for our sins.

As we reflect on John’s version of the resurrection story, I ask you to place yourself at the tomb.  Our Bishop, Jennifer Reddall, suggested this week that we not be in a rush to put aside our grief that we have lived with this year.   She wrote, “If we skip over the griefs of this year, we may move too quickly away from the empty tomb. If we stay, and reflect, and weep... we may come to find that the person standing next to us is Jesus.”

Let us remember that it was Mary Magdalene who first found the empty tomb.  She ran and got Peter and another disciple to come and see.  We know little about the reaction of the two disciples when they saw the tomb was empty.  We only know that they left and went to their home.  Mary stayed.  She cried.  So much had been taken from her.  Jesus had been killed.  Now, she couldn’t even see his body place ointments on his body.  She didn’t know where they had taken him.

Some of us can relate to Mary.  For some were not allowed to see their loved one before they died.  Some were only given a few moments, barely time to say good-bye.  I mentioned people that I knew who died his past year.  In the listening and the grieving, I remembered things about what people who died had accomplished and I learned things I never knew.  One of my relatives who died offered a ministry of going to the places in Cincinnati where people had been killed and offering prayers at that sight.  What a gift that I knew nothing about. 

Mary could have left but she didn’t. In her grief, she was welcomed by angels.  And then she saw Jesus.  She didn’t recognize him at first but when he spoke to her she must have been filled with joy.  Mary Magdalene, the woman who stayed at the tomb, was the one who first announced the resurrection of Jesus.  Without her witness, we may have never read the words of Paul or of Peter. 

I ask you then to stay a moment.  There is much joy to be felt today but it can wait.  Let us stay for just a moment at that tomb.  If we listen carefully, perhaps Jesus will come to each of us and speak.  Then we will know that Jesus rose from the dead for everyone and most of all for you.  Amen. 

 

 

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